Many a rednecks last words can be summed up in the simple phrase, “Dude, hold my beer.” Others’ last words range from the humorous to the sad to the profound.
Murderer James W. Rodgers was put in front of a firing squad in Utah and asked if he had a last request. He replied, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”
Humphrey Bogart said, “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”
At the deathbed of Joan Crawford, a housekeeper began to pray. Joan snapped, “Dammit… Don’t you dare ask God to help me.”
Recognizing that he would die before being able to reverse the official state endorsement of Christianity, Emperor Julian proclaimed, “You have won, O Galilean.”
Voltaire, when asked by a priest to renounce Satan is reported to have said, “Now, now, my good man, this is no time for making enemies.”
Finally, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple was an atheist early in his life and he may have died one, but it is reported that he was “considering” God prior to his death in 2011. According to his sister Mona, Jobs’ last words were, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”
I honestly don’t know if it is normal or not, but in my career as a priest, I have presided at over one hundred funerals. The youngest was four – a mentally ill babysitter had thrown her against a wall when she wouldn’t stop crying. The oldest was a remarkable life that spanned over a century. There have been more than enough suicides and one gentleman I baptized two days before his death, he was ninety-eight. For each, whether they could articulate it or not, before they crossed over into that undiscovered country, I suspect that Dr. Seuss may have accurately summed up their thoughts: “How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flown. How did it get so late so soon?”
No matter our age, young or old, that question will arise, “How did it get so late so soon. “ The time slips away from us and as it does , some will also let God slip by. They say, I will “consider” God when the kids are raised, when I’ve reached the top of the proverbial ladder, when I have more time, when the Christmas shopping is done, when… When. When?
True story: a newly ordained priest was in his first parish. On the first Sunday afternoon there, he was watching a football game. It was the second quarter, when the phone rang. A parishioner told him of his nephew who was in the hospital being treated for leukemia. The man was hoping the priest would go by and visit him. The priest agreed and said he would go by the following Thursday, but during half-time, he started feeling guilty and went to the hospital. He visited with the young man for a while and they made plans to discuss this “God Business.” The priest was back home before the game was over, but no sooner had he arrived, when the phone rang again. It was parishioner, telling him he didn’t have to go visit his nephew. “Oh,” said the priest, “I’ve already been and we’ve made plans to talk in the future.” “I’m glad you saw him,” said the parishioner, “but you don’t have to go again. He died.” “But we had plans to talk.” “Well… its too late.”
When we consider those that we are gifted with opportunity to minister to, our friends and our family, we often wonder when is the right time to speak to them about these last things? I would like for them to have a relationship with God, but I’ll wait until they aren’t so busy. I’ll wait until their kids are raised. I’ll let them grow up and then they can decide for themselves. I’ll wait until I can figure out the right words to say. Or, Heaven forbid, “Faith is a personal issue and I shouldn’t intrude.”
Do you know what St. Paul would say to all of this? “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
We are here this evening to consecrate and bless the columbarium, but what we must never forget is the fact that the columbarium really isn’t about those who are placed there. The columbarium is about us. When we are there, it is done. We are the living…
This room, the columbarium, stands as a testament to those who we place here. They should be a constant reminder to take heed to ourselves and be steadfast in our faith, yet, as the living, we are also testaments to the work of God, and we are called by Him to be witnesses, to proclaim the Gospel, a message of life and death, and His love to a world that so desperately needs it.
So, if you hold within you the message of life and death, have you been that witness? Have you proclaimed by word and deed the Good News of Jesus Christ? Perhaps one way of answering that question is to consider what the last words of your friends and family members might be. Would they be something similar to the words of Steve Jobs, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow,” as they entered the Eternal City? Or would would their last words be something along the lines of Dr. Seuss’ statement, “My goodness how the time has flown. How did it get so late so soon?” How come no one ever talked to me about these things?
The Golden Legend records the last words of the Apostle we celebrate today, St. Andrew. He spoke these words just before he was crucified. “O most beautiful cross that was glorified by carrying the body of Christ! Glorious cross, sweetly desired, ardently loved, always sought, and finally prepared for my heart that has so long awaited you. Take me, o cross! Embrace me. Release me from my life among men. Bring me quickly and diligently to the Master. Through you He will receive me, He, Who through you has saved me.”
There are many “last words,” but it is only the cross of Christ that saves. You know this to be true, so share this Good News, so that on another’s last days, when they are placed in this space, they will give thanks for your “beautiful feet.” They will give thanks that you were a testament, a witness to the Good News of God and proclaimed the words of life and love to them.